From XU Magazine, 
Issue 16

Xero works for large businesses too

We hear a lot about how Xero helps small businesses, such as cafés or bike repair shops. But what about larger businesses? Should we be hearing about how Xero helps them?
This article originated from the Xero blog. The XU Hub is an independent news and media platform - for Xero users, by Xero users. Any content, imagery and associated links below are directly from Xero and not produced by the XU Hub.
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After talking to a couple of larger firms, I can safely say that the answer is “yes.” The reality is that Xero, when paired with other cloud apps, is just as suitable for large businesses as it is for small businesses.

Larger consulting, engineering and construction firms are great examples of this trend. These are the people who make sure your pipes work, who maintain the power plants that light up your house, and who build the factories that turn the minerals we dig out of the ground into the products we use every day. They design, project plan and manage teams that keep society humming along.

This is high-value, high-risk work. Talent in this sector isn’t cheap and nor are the materials. To succeed, these firms need to plan ahead, know how staff are spending their time, where their plant, tools, and materials are, and where they have capacity. Otherwise, they risk missing out on projects they could have bid on, or underbidding on jobs because they didn’t know where or how their resources were tied up.

Synertec and SPI are both large businesses in this sector who happily use Xero. They’ve both grown their businesses over the last few years. I caught up with them to find out how they used cloud software to support that growth, and get the information they needed, when they needed it.

Growing and going public with Synertec

Synertec started out more than twenty years ago as a specialist construction and engineering firm for the pharmaceutical industry. Over time, the business grew, and now they have sixty staff members, providing specialist consulting, construction and engineering services to all kinds of industries, including defence, oil and gas and water.

Things ticked along on spreadsheets and other manual systems, but five years ago they sat down to do some strategic planning for the future. It was pretty clear that to get where they wanted to be, they were going to need to move beyond spreadsheets.

This is where Tidy and Xero came in. Tidy handles the time and materials planning and tracking, along with the project and management accounting and Xero handles the financial accounting. The result is almost an ERP system, full of up-to-date information for every project.

This is exactly what they needed to scale up. Running multiple projects in multiple locations creates a lot of information to be managed. Tidy helps Synertec capture this information quickly, and report it to decision-makers in the business. Kylie Brailsford, PMO and Validation Group Manager at Synertec said, “A managing director wants to know how a project is tracking, and what its forecast is. Then he or she can compare that against that project’s budget. Xero and Tidy allow us to do that.”

This visibility lets managers make bigger-picture decisions more confidently, based on whether projects are forecast to be above or below their budget.

Accuracy is also particularly important for Synertec - they listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) in August of last year. Tidy helps to keep their information accurate by having everyone work in the same system for operations, which flows into the financial accounting system. That’s a lot faster and more accurate than emailing spreadsheets around!

Looking back, Kylie can’t believe how much better their data is now. “It was a real revelation when we made the switch, and there’s no way we could operate on spreadsheets now.

SPI’s expansion into new regions

SPI Industrial provide mechanical, electrical and instrumentation engineering services. They’re the firm you call when you have a big project that needs to be taken care of from start to finish. For example, they dismantled an entire power plant in New Zealand so it could be shipped to India.

They’ve been in Northland, New Zealand since the 1970s. A few years ago, they decided to push into some new markets - namely Auckland and the Bay of Plenty. “We had to do some hard yards,” says Managing Director Paul Hebberd, “we’d do one little job, then use that as a foot in the door for the big jobs.”

It took some time, but now they’re scaled up, with workshops in Auckland, Northland and the Bay of Plenty. They have a core staff of around one hundred people, and that can ramp up by fifty or more contractors, depending on the jobs they’re working on.

This growth has created some new challenges. Now, they’re spread across sites all over the country. They need to know where their staff and materials are at all times, so they can make decisions for the future.

This is where they use Tidy. Job supervisors, and people working on client sites and in the SPI workshops, use Tidy to track how time and materials are being used. Since it’s all in the cloud, this information is instantly available for the staff at the head office. The information Xero requires to do its job flows directly from Tidy. Combined, this gives SPI the essentials of an ERP system.

Tidy’s intuitive interface helps accurate information quickly flow from the front line to the head office. Many of the supervisors are from trades backgrounds, so don’t have as much software experience as the people in the head office.  “Lots of our staff aren’t necessarily savvy computer users,” says Wendy Williams, Business Services Manager at SPI, “but they can certainly find their way around Tidy.”

The combined effect of the connectivity and ease of use means SPI not only saves time, it also gives staff the data they need to make decisions in real time. This boosts productivity and efficiency right across the organisation.

Towards better resource management

SPI have a number of specialist staff members using specialised tools. “The thing about our always in-demand staff members,” says Wendy, “is that they can only be in one place at a time.” By scheduling and tracking time in Tidy, SPI knows where their staff members are working, and where they are committed in the future. This lets them plan jobs more effectively.

When bidding for jobs right through to project completion, SPI need to know ahead of time if they will have workers available with the right expertise and compliance certificates. For example, they may need a certain grade of welder who is also qualified to work in confined spaces and has the correct up-to-date health and safety certificate.

SPI use Tidy and EnableHR to keep track of who has the right set of skills for the project and tasks they are allocated. Most tasks are very dependent on other team members doing their job, so accurately managing this is key to overall project success; from financial, to quality, to health and safety. For instance, swiftly being able to make team changes when workers call in sick is critical to SPI. These cloud systems help them with job planning because it provides a continuous, accurate picture of who is available, and when.

Wrapping up

Scaling up businesses that bid and work on big jobs is a challenging task - the costs are high, and the resources are limited. Xero, Tidy, and other modern cloud apps effectively provide a modular ERP solution for these organisations. This gives even the largest SMEs a clear picture of what’s happening across the business, so they can make good decisions based on accurate information. Synertec and SPI confirmed that cloud apps such as Xero aren’t just for coffee shops. Combine them with complementary apps like Tidy and they’re a powerful combination for big business too!

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Caroline Harridence
Josh Sasto